“If you want to do political art, do first a political thing.” Agree or Disagree?

Image not taken by me. Found here. Photo credit: ~ Magne / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

Banksy Graffiti in Bethlehem.  Image not my own, found here.
Photo credit: ~ Magne / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

So said my hostess, who is both an artist and an activist.  We were discussing the large amount of artists in Israel who are producing political art.  Her bugbear is that artists are very quick to make political art, because it’s easy in a place like Israel, but many of them are not actually politically engaged, through protesting or such likes.  I think she finds this hypocritical, or a bit of a cop-out.

It got me wondering if the same could be said for architecture, which many consider to be a form of art (ie. if you want to do political architecture, should you do first a political thing?).  The difference, arguably, is that architecture is something that’s done to people, in a way.  I don’t think people can ignore it as easily as they can pieces of art that they dislike.  To build is a political act.  So in this way architecture is perhaps more inherently political than art (although art, unconstrained as it is by functionality and practicalities, also has the potential to be more political than architecture ever can be…)

Certainly there are people who design political architecture and deny that it’s political, such as Thomas Lietersdorf (who designed the West Bank settlement Ma’ale Adumim), quoted in Segal and Weizman’s brilliant book A Civilian Occupation, during an interview by Eran Tamir-Tawil , saying:

‘…I am very weak on politics.  To tell you than an architect influences politics?  He doesn’t.  The whole story of Judea and Samaria could have been different, but this is on levels that are neither in your hands or mine.”

Maybe we should all just go ahead and design settlements, then?!  (I jest)

So it seems there are both artists and architects creating political works without actually engaging in the political situation around them.  Does that make the end product any less political, though?  Absolutely not, in my view.  You can find something to be political even when its creator didn’t intend it, or doesn’t admit that it is…politics, like beauty, is often in the eye of the beholder.


Segal R. & Weizman E. (2003) A Civilian Occupation: The Politics of Israeli Architecture. London: Verso. p.161


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